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Tuesday’s Result Raises New Questions for Both Parties

Now what?

Republican Scott Brown’s clear victory over Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) to fill the remainder of the term of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) is shocking, given the state’s Democratic bent, recent showings by Republican federal candidates in Massachusetts and the GOP’s demise in New England over the past 15 years.

In 2008, President Barack Obama carried Massachusetts with 62 percent of the vote, while Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won re-election with 66 percent. On Tuesday, just 14 months after Obama and Kerry steamrolled their opponents in the Bay State, Coakley drew just 47 percent of the vote to Brown’s 52 percent.

The last Republican to win a Senate election in Massachusetts was Ed Brooke in 1972, and although Ronald Reagan narrowly carried Massachusetts twice in his presidential races, no Republican White House nominee has drawn 52 percent of the vote in Massachusetts since Dwight Eisenhower in 1956.

Want a better idea how pathetic the Bay State GOP has been until this week’s special election? The Massachusetts state Senate has 34 Democrats and only 4 Republicans (with one vacancy), while the state House of Representatives has 144 Democrats and 16 Republicans. That’s right — 16 Republicans out of a total of 160 state Representatives.

So Brown’s victory certainly changes things in Massachusetts, and more importantly in Washington, D.C., but it won’t be entirely clear for a while exactly what those changes are or what they mean.

Democratic leaders from Obama to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) surely still want a health care reform bill, and they’ll have to decide how to proceed.

Talk before the special election that they’d have to scrap everything if Brown won is true on one level but hyperbole on another.

Yes, Democrats now need at least one Republican vote in the Senate to pass a bill, so Brown’s election fundamentally changes the arithmetic on Capitol Hill. But Democrats still have more than an 80-seat majority in the House of Representatives and a 59-41 majority in the Senate, meaning that they haven’t exactly been emasculated by the Brown victory.

Instead, the Democratic majority will now have to do what every other Congress over the past 30 years has had to do — pass legislation with at least some support from the minority party.

Obviously, the White House and Congressional Democratic leaders need to sit down and figure out how to proceed under the new reality.

Some have suggested that Democrats try to jam the Senate bill through the House so that the president can sign it immediately, but that would require a dramatic change in the attitude of liberal Democrats who find the Senate bill distasteful.

Moreover, any strategy adopted by Capitol Hill Democrats that smacks of frustrating the will of Massachusetts voters and dismissing the general public’s growing doubts about health care reform would only give Republicans more ammunition.

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